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Judicial (and domestic) CP - October 2003

Corpun file 12181


Shanghai Star, 9 October 2003

Citizen Cane

By Xing Bao

IT is not uncommon for angry Chinese parents to give their children a thrashing on the buttocks as a punishment for mischief.

flogging in imperial courtIn fact, such physical punishment, which has existed for thousands of years in China, has been widely employed by teachers, judges and even emperors on students, criminals and officials.

In Chinese, the lash is formally called the bianchi with both "bian" and "chi" bearing the meaning of "flogging".

The earliest record of the lash can be dated back to the Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th century-256 BC) when teachers punished students in this way. The measure was gradually adopted as a means to punish crime.

Painful shame

In "The Dignity of Buttocks", a book which illustrated the use of lash in China's long history, the writer, with the pen name Zhu Ke, said that the lash even served as the trigger for the Chensheng-Wuguang Insurgency during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), the first recorded rural uprising in Chinese history.

According to historians, after Chen and Wu, the two leaders, had fully prepared for the rebellion, Chen deliberately irritated the officials who escorted him and other farmers. When the officials were about to flog Chen, the furious farmers standing around, who had become dissatisfied with the governor, killed the official and ultimately overthrew China's first imperial dynasty.

Although Confucianism finally became the dominant ideology during the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and prevailed throughout China over the subsequent millennia, many experts accept that China's ancient societies also remained attached to the Legalist's creed, which upheld the sovereignty of the law and its attendant severe punishments.

Accordingly, during the Han Dynasty, the lash became a formal penalty, but still a minor one compared with other corporal punishments such as cutting off fingers or noses.

According to historical records, at that time there was a man sentenced to a corporal penalty whose daughter asked to suffer the punishment in her father's place.

This greatly moved the emperor, who asked for the - relatively humane - lash to be used to punish the man, proceeding to abolish mutilations while keeping the lash as a substitute.

From this point the size and material composition of the instrument became clearly defined. Typically, the instrument of pain was a long cane made of bamboo or wood.

Zhu Ke, the writer, said the substitution of the lash for crueler corporal punishments revealed a forward movement of civilization.

"The great pain caused by the lash worked very effectively as a punishment for wrong-doers, while the flogging also had an educational effect on those witnessing it," he said. "Furthermore, it was a beating on the buttocks, and sometimes wrong-doers would have their trousers pulled down before the lashing, which added a feeling of shame."

These three effects of the lash - pain, deterrence and shame - coincided well with the strong paternal power in traditional Chinese families, so the lash also became popular in households for punishing both offspring and servants.

In "A Dream of Red Mansions", one of the four most renowned ancient Chinese novels, there is vivid description of the hero Jia Baoyu suffering the lash at the hand of his father.

Deadly punishment

Although the formal introduction of the lash as a penalty might be seen as a mark of social progress, its ever wider use betrayed the original intention behind its adoption.

Deaths caused by the lash were not rare in ancient China, especially during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), when the lash had become a frequent punishment for officials who provoked the emperor.

During the regime of Zhu Yuanzhang, the founder of the Ming Dynasty, at least five senior officials were beaten to death.

"The use of the lash by emperors on official reached its peak during the Ming Dynasty," the writer said.

Such a phenomenon seems to confirm a view shared by some historians who have argued that the Ming Dynasty may have been the darkest period in China's imperial history.

Under a number of succeeding emperors, there were similar reports of the emperor sentencing whole groups of officials to the lash for various reasons. In 1518, due to a dispute at court, a total of 146 senior officials were severely lashed, resulting in 11 deaths. Later, in a similar case, of 134 officials punished, 17 died.

The lash was finally abolished as a penalty during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when China launched a campaign to imitate Western ways, developing industry and modifying laws. The lash was eliminated from the list of criminal penalties in 1909, two years before the end of the Qing Dynasty and the termination of China's imperial system.

However, flogging the buttocks did not die out in family education.

The writer of "The Dignity of the Buttocks" said that, as a way to educate children, the punishment existed for quite a long time in Chinese families.

"However, the difference between flogging today and in ancient times is the disappearance of the special instrument," he said.

"A broom or even hands are now common substitutes for the ancient lash."

Copyright by Shanghai Star.

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